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review 2017-07-07 11:46
Review: The Names They Gave Us
The Names They Gave Us - Emery Lord

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

I had pre ordered this one ages ago, but I have a habit of pre ordering finished copies of Emery Lord books and requesting them on Netgalley as soon as I see them. Usually I start them as soon as I’m approved, but in this case it took me a while to get round to starting this one. Mainly because of the subjects it dealt with – faith and cancer.

 

While it took me a while to get into the novel, by the end I did love it to pieces, and as with every Emery Lord book I’ve read by the end I was in floods of tears. Beautifully written, and I thought it handled the tough subjects excellently. A+ points for diverse characters, transgender rep and friendships as well. The characters were fantastic and well fleshed out. The romance was adorable. The adults were likeable as well.

 

The novel tells the story of teenager Lucy who has learned that her mother’s cancer has returned. Lucy’s dad is a pastor, she’s very religious. She has a great relationship with her parents, she has a steady boyfriend of several years Lucas. Though on receiving the news, she falls to pieces. She starts to question her faith. It’s all handled very thoughtfully and manages to do it without being preachy at all. So bonus points for that.

 

Lucy’s parents run a Christian themed summer camp and she usually helps out as a councillor, but her mom convinces her to try being a councillor at the camp the other side of the lake, Daybreak. Which is a camp helping troubled children. Her mom thinks this may help Lucy deal with some of her own issue. She’s in pieces in private, but determined to put on a strong face around her parents. Though she’s acting out and getting overly amorous with the boyfriend. The boyfriend was also very religious and frankly, a bit of a dick. He was trying to be patient and understanding, but it didn’t come across very well – then – he puts their relationship ON PAUSE over the summer. Jerk.

 

Lucy is a bit reluctant to try Daybreak, she just wants to be with her mom. But she finds herself getting to know the other councillors her age, and dealing with the children, from all sorts of different backgrounds with all sorts of problems. As much as I liked Lucy and her voice I did find her to be kind of sheltered, maybe something to do with her deep religious beliefs. One of the kids, a girl of 14 is pregnant, and Lucy is quite shocked by this. She turns out to really connect to the girl and help her a lot.

 

Lucy makes friends in the camp, though the other councillors have known each other for years, she struggles to find her way into the close group of close-knit friends. It’s very sweet as she learns to accept the other kids who they are, find things in common with them, and gets to know them. She finds herself attracted one of the councillors her age, a boy named Henry. They bond and develop a close friendship with the potential for something more. Lucy has to figure out if she really wants to make the relationship with Lucas work, or go for something new with Henry. It works really well and adds a lot of depth to Lucy’s character as she struggles to make her decisions.

 

Lucy has to deal with a lot of different emotions and manages to handle them extremely well. She has her moments where she does fall apart. I did find I really liked her views on her struggle with her faith as well. A lot of it made a great deal of sense as she pondered it out. And there really were some beautiful passages on faith towards the end of the novel.

 

Tough subjects, but well worth reading.

 

I loved it.

 

Thank you Netgalley and Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ) for approving my request to view the title.

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review 2017-06-23 11:03
Review: The Memory Book
The Memory Book - Lara Avery

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

This book was an absolute heartbreaker. And I loved it. Surprised because I really wasn’t expecting much considering I really didn’t like the last book I read by the same author, but I really enjoyed this one.

 

The novel tells the story of 18 year old Samantha, who has a rare disease which will cause memory loss and other nasty side effects, very few teenagers are diagnosed with the disease and very few (if any) survive. Sam is very smart and almost ready to graduate high school, with dreams of going to college in New York. Determined to survive and live her life the best she can, in spite of the horrible news she’s been dealing with.

 

She writes The Memory Book as a guide to her future self for when her memory has been sliding and she can’t remember things. She has two younger siblings, a brother and a sister and involved parents who are reluctant about the whole college thing. She sees a guidance councillor regularly and doctors regularly.  Sam is a brilliant debater, she’s off to Regional Debate Championships with her friend and debating partner Maddie, she’s set to be Valedictorian when she graduates. And the boy she’s had a crush on for years, Stuart, who went off to New York and became a published writer, has come back into town. All going pretty good. She’s going a high school party and actually talks to her long term crush.

 

However, it all starts to go wrong, symptoms of Sam’s illness which cause her to forget where she is, strike suddenly, and unexpectedly. Maddie freaks because Sam didn’t tell her about the seriousness of her illness, Sam is naturally crushed. Bright point of life is when she starts developing a friendship into something more serious with Stuart. At the same time her childhood friend Cooper has recently come back into her life as well, Cooper became a big baseball star in high school then blew it with a pot addiction. Sam finds an unexpected closeness with Cooper, opening up to him as they reminisce about their childhood companionship.

 

The novel was very emotional, I loved Sam’s voice, given what she was dealing with she was incredibly strong and very brave. Her inner monologue went from a range of emotions from excitement and swooning over her developing relationship with Stuart, funny, moody, despair. She talks about her fears, her desires, what she longs for. The struggles with talking about what she’s going through. Dealing with the fall outs when things happen.

 

There’s a love triangle that does pop up but it’s one that works really well and managed to surprise me. And still made me smile.

 

Sam’s memory book also includes input from her parents and siblings and later Cooper who all start adding to the narrative.  The emotional impact was incredibly deep and moving.

 

By the end I was in floods of tears. I was reading the last 20% or so during a slow afternoon at work and by the time I’d finished I had to leave the office and have a cry in the toilets for five minutes. I reread the end again at home and cried all over again.

 

Beautiful, beautiful book. The story manages to go from cute and funny to gut wrenching with some incredibly sad moments. Even so, it was a really amazing read. I loved it so much I bought a finished copy.

 

Thank you Netgalley and Hatchette Children’s Group.

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review 2017-06-09 11:52
Review: Letters to the Lost
Letters to the Lost - Brigid Kemmerer

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

This was a gutwrencher of a book. I could only read it in short spurts because the emotional upheaval was so deep.

 

The novel tells the story of Juliet and Declan, both of whom are dealing with tough losses, both as results of tragic car accidents. Declan lost his younger sister, Juliet lost her mother.

 

 Declan appears to be your typical YA bad boy. Darkly good looking, grumpy yet possibly a lot smarter than everyone thinks he is. He’s sullied by a bad reputation. Whereas Juliet is a typical high school good girl. She has a run in with Declan in the halls one morning and accidentally spills her coffee on him running to class. However, when a teacher comes in a finds him moaning about it and yelling at her, he’s the one who’s carted off to detention.

 

Juliet has been spending a lot of time at the cemetery where her mother is buried and leaves her letters. Declan has community service with the grounds keeper at the same cemetery and one day he finds the unsigned letter Juliet has left her mother. And responds to it. Leading to a letter writing exchange without names. Where both parties explore their grief and guilt over their own losses and start to talk to each other in a way they can’t open up to anyone else.

 

The grief poured into the letters is raw and unflinching, mixing of guilt, anger and responsibility. Juliet and Declan are able to explore feelings they have never admitted to anyone else before, it’s much easier to talk to someone anonymous than admit these feelings their closest friends. The letters eventually become emails.

 

Yet in real life whenever Juliet and Declan have run-ins with each other, it’s unpleasant. They rub each other the wrong way. Yet keep finding themselves running into each other. He helps her out several times. And sometimes some of the things anonymous Declan says in his letters resonate deeply with Juliet, particularly when he talks about how unfair it is that with a bad reputation that wasn’t his fault he’s blamed automatically even when things aren’t his fault. This makes her start to try to open up.

 

Both have tough home situations, Juliet’s dad is trying but kind of absent and checked out. Juliet’s mom was a renowned photographer who was often out of the country in dangerous places. War zones and such. There’s a very hard hitting scene at the front of the book where Juliet’s dad asks her if he can sell her mom’s camera equipment to her mother’s agent, and Juliet falls to pieces. It’s tough to read and absolutely heart breaking.

 

While Declan’s mother is equally passive. His father is in jail after the accident that killed Declan’s sister, and his mom has since  gone through a patch of bad relationships and finally married a snotty man who has taken an instant disliking to Declan (bad reputation at fault again) and automatically assumes the worst. They argue a lot and Declan’s mom just won’t step in to defend her son.

 

Though Declan doesn’t help himself with an equally pissy attitude. Though it’s clear he loves his mom he’s obviously frustrated by her at the same time. His support system comes from his best friend Rev and his family. Who are all awesome.

 

Juliet and Declan keep finding themselves thrown together and start realising who the person they’re writing to might be. Which shocks both of them. But their feelings for each other are growing deeper and deeper despite their equal reluctance to admit the truth and open up to each other for real. Both find themselves dealing with some home truths in their own home lives which shock them to their cores.

 

It’s kind of obvious what’s going to happen in the romance department, but even you the way the story is written makes the reader want to get these two together. (Or it certainly did for me).

 

Beautifully written with some incredible characters. I loved it so much I bought a finished copy as well.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (UK & ANZ) for approving my request to view the title.

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review 2017-05-15 21:42
Review: The Sun is Also a Star
The Sun Is Also a Star - Nicola Yoon

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

I don’t really know what to say on this one. I was really looking forward to it as I absolutely loved the author’s debut, Everything Everything, which I just devoured. But I just couldn’t get into this one. It wasn’t a bad book really. The characters were delightfully diverse, the two leads, Daniel and Natasha had fantastic chemistry and a believable romance in a tough situation. I thought it was handled fairly realistically.

 

But…I just didn’t like it. It just didn’t work for me. The premise is an interesting one. Daniel comes from a Korean family who immigrated to America, his dad runs a pharmacy. His brother Charlie has always been the high achiever of the family, though has recently come home from college in disgrace. Daniel has always been in Charlie’s shadow. His parents have very high expectations of him. (Charlie is an absolute dick). Daniel is a more sensitive soul, he has a big university interview, he’s not sure what he wants to do with his life. He has a quirky, almost snarky tone of voice. He likes to write poetry.

 

Natasha’s family came over from Jamaica, her family all live in one small apartment, her dad had dreams of being an actor. He’s got great talent, but can’t seem to get a break, Natasha has a younger brother, and a hard working mom. Natasha herself is very smart and loves science. Her dad got drunk and wound up spilling their family history to a police officer, including telling the police they are illegal immigrants. And now Natasha and her family are twelve hours away from being deported.

 

Natasha is determined to make one last stab at saving her family from deportation by meeting with a lawyer who specialises in deportation cases. Stopping in a record store a chance meeting leads her to run into Daniel on the way to his interview.

 

They spark a great connection and start to get to know each other, despite the fact that both of them have places to be and a limited time, their connection is so…just there…they keep finding ways to keep the conversation going; Daniel is more optimistic and romantic. Natasha is a lot more practical and logical.

 

While they both have great voices, I think what really distracted from their story was random chapters from a whole other points of view. Various characters who have random interactions with both Natasha and Daniel, and whole chapters of random information about things that are relevant in the novel. Sometimes sciency things.

 

There was an almost quirky tone of voice to the while thing, but it felt to me like it was trying to be clever and funny, but it just came across as distracting from the main story. And by half way through these chapters were making my eyes roll more than anything. Even though they all had a part of play in the eventual story.

 

It did at least have a believable ending, which I did like, a realistic tone to it. I wouldn’t particularly read this book again, but I do love this this author.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Random House UK Children’s for approving my request to view the title.

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review 2017-03-29 20:10
Review: The Witch's Tears
The Witch's Tears: (Sequel to The Witch's Kiss) - Katharine Corr,Elizabeth Fernando Corr

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

A delightful follow up to the Witch’s Kiss. A few months later witch in training Merry and her brother Leo are still trying to process the evens of the first book. It’s the summer holidays, no school. Merry is focused on her witch training. Leo has become moody and withdrawn.

 

Merry’s witch training isn’t going quite as well as she would like, she’s got much more power than anyone seems to realize, and she can do things that there aren’t written instructions for. I really like the way witchcraft works in the novel, the way the spells are performed and the history surrounding it. Though it’s a little surprising while there’s a big coven there seems to be so few teenage daughters. Only one other teen besides Merry shows up in the novel. That aside, the coven working together aspect is pretty interesting.

 

Though it’s not surprising that for Merry it can get incredibly frustrating because all these women are trained witches and grownups to boot. So when Merry accidentally stumbles on a file in her grandmother’s house about a women who turns out to have been murdered, and was a witch as well…it’s a new mystery to solve. Of course Merry is told to leave it alone.

 

Merry’s prophetic-like dreams are back as well, this time telling of a fairy-tale monster. But is there something more to this?

 

On top of this Merry’s grandmother has disappeared, more dead witches are turning up, Leo is becoming more withdrawn. Two different new boys turns up, one a drifter who camps in the woods near the Black Lake strikes up a friendship with Leo, which has potential to turn into something more, and the other shows up at Merry’s grandmother’s house around the time Gran goes missing. Both have secrets and mysteries about them.

 

The story telling is as a top notch as the first book, Merry is an incredibly likeable main character. I enjoy her voice immensely. She still manages to be sassy, and snarky, sensible, though not without faults. Her magic for one – still difficult to control and comes out at inopportune moments, especially when she’s pissed off – which happens a few times, leading to a few plot twists.

 

Didn’t like Leo quite as much in this book, he’s pulled away from Merry and has become quite stubborn and moody, he’s struggled to cope with a certain death from the first book, so it’s sort of understandable, but at the same time, his secretive attitude is annoying. He’s not outright mean to Merry or anything, but he’s got a definite chip on his shoulder attitude, and being secretive and shutting her out, which is sad considering how close they were in the first book. At least we get Leo’s point of view, so the reader does get a bit more insight into his character. Plus, Leo gets a romance in this installment, so yay for that.

 

An intriguing mystery to solve and new characters to unravel and get to know. And one hell of a cliff-hanger at the end! I really hope there is another installment ASAP.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins UK, Children’s for approving my request to view the title.

 

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